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What does it take to be a great 6 string bassist?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by MacheteJames, May 4, 2005.

  1. The reason I ask this is because having owned and played a 6 string for a year now (a Cort Curbow 6), I'm still not nearly as fluent on it as I am on my 5s. My G&L L2500 is effortless to play, while the Curbow 6 requires me to think more when playing, if you know what I mean. I still find myself tripping over certain notes and getting fretbuzz, or reaching for a string with my plucking hand and hitting the wrong string. I've done lots to try to remedy this: I took MusicDojo's class "Mastering Left and Right Hand Technique" which helped immensely, but I'm not yet where I want to be yet. It's just annoying to be able to switch basses and suddenly feel like you have twice the ability.

    What I'm wondering is if it is even possible to be able to rip up and down the neck on a 6 string the way one can on an equivalent 5 or 4. Certainly, the neck is wider and the entire instrument seems to take more effort to play. The instruments tend to be heavier than their 5 and 4 stringed counterparts as well. In the world of bassists, it certainly seems like many of the most technically competent and skilled players don't go the 6 string route, when they could. Is this inherent difficulty the reason why?

  2. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Why don't more players use them? Some people just have nothing to say on a 6;)

    One of the key reasons I don't have any issues switching back and forth between fours, fives and sixes is consistency of string spacing. My sixes have the same spacing as my fours, so do my fives.

    As far as weight differences, you can easily find a quality six that weighs less than some fours and fives. I know most Elricks are much lighter than other basses. Caveat: you get what you pay for.

    Some of my sixes weigh more than others, some less and I like them all because they each have their own vibe. Weight really isn't an issue for me... a good strap cures many ills;)

    Have you figured out "why" you're tripping over some notes and getting unwanted fretbuzz?

    Not to get all Zen on you but if you think something is hard it will be IME.

    Look at it as something you don't do as well as you'd like to... yet.

    Semantics time;):

    I'm at the point where I don't feel my sixes take "more" effort to play, they're easy to play now that I've gotten used to them. That took a couple of weeks on my MTD 635 to really sort things out, especially getting my left hand technique to the point where I had complete control over what sounds I allowed to happen. My fours take even less effort than my normal effort, mainly because I have almost all of my basses setup with very low action and use a light touch. By the same token, some things are much easier to play across the fingerboard of a six than up and down the neck of a four.

    Your LH thumb positioning is critical... it can make the difference between comfort and discomfort. On your RH, how you anchor can make the same difference, not just in comfort but in agility too. I don't constantly anchor my RH in one position, it varies depending on what string(s) I'm playing. People here call it "floating thumb" because your thumb could be anchored on various strings depending on what string your playing.

    So...plucking and fretting technique, action and string spacing, a good quality bass and just getting comfortable with the idea of a six should go a long way to achieving your goal. At this point I don't spend a lot of time consciously thinking about string configurations, I just play what I have in my hand.

    Good luck:D
  3. I've actually found that when I am thinking, ie focusing on the mechanics of what I'm doing, my playing suffers. by shutting off rational thought and simply listening my playing takes off, on any number of strings.

    when I have transitioned to any bass with more strings (4 to 5, 5 to 6, 6 to 8, 8 to 10) I spend one solid long practice session playing nothing but the grooves with which I am the most familiar. usually that's some James Brown, Bill Withers, Robben Ford... this lets me cover familiar territory so I don't have to look at my fingers. I can simply feel the groove and the new instrument, get used to its newness. gradually as an hour or 2 goes by, I can start to embellish those parts and work into some simple soloing.

    remember that, as Brad wrote, if you're thinking it will be harder you will make it harder. at the same time a 6 is not a 5 and has to be treated differently.

    Greg Campbell describes moving back to instruments with fewer strings as "riding a minibike": you can realy fly around on it and play crazy stuff that you might not attempt on the bigger axes, but it's longer your vehicle of choice. that doesn't diminish your love for it or your accomplishments on it, just that you're trying something else.

    give yourself time and try to have patience.

    it's also possible that you might be at home on a 5! ;)

    if this is any help, here's a pic of me on my latest axe. you can bet this bad boy takes work...
    here's me workin'...

    cut yourself some slack and remember that you didn't fly around on that 5 at first, either.

    from the lows,

  4. He went broke buying strings & couldn't afford knobs. ;)
  5. d'oh!

    :D :cool:
  6. If the neck wideness is what's bothering you, learn double bass...hehe, I ALWAYS use that as a remedy to any problem that pales to double bass stuff...hehe, me and my double bass supremacy clauses...anyway!

    I agree with stew, maybe 5 is home. If you don't use the high C string that often and it, one, gets in your way, and two, you see it as more of a hinderance than an opportunity, then cut your losses of trying the 6 string bass (though the stretching probably enriched your playing) and stick with 5.

    But, if you do want to continue and learn 6 string, then I would say, find a band that you can VOLUNTEER to help play in. I know this sounds weird, but if you are volunteering, you have a little freedom to experiment bass lines and get experience that you aren't too afraid of messing up but where you still have that gig feeling. Experience with other musicians will give you perspective on how the extra string is used with other musicians. Personally, I use it most of the time to reach the high D to G on the C string when on the lower half. The high C is good for over-the-top, high minor 3rd and 4th high solo stuff, tapping, and chord strumming (I won't elaborate, I have my own techniques to make it a guitar; I'm still working on them, but I know them because I love my 6 so much I want to pioneer on it).
  7. Fantastic stuff everyone, thanks for the replies.

    I think string spacing may be part of the issue. I was originally a wide-spacing guy - I started on a 19mm spaced four, moved on to two 19mm spaced wide 5s, and then traded one of the 5s for my current 6, with 17mm spacing. I then got my G&L, which also has 17mm spacing. I learned to play on wider-necked basses, and I think it still gives me muscle memory issues. You'd think by now I'd be all set, but I guess not. I have huge hands, so the wide spacing was always very comfortable for me. However, the number of wide 6s is very small, pretty much forcing me to adapt.

    I've also only used my 6 for solo stuff, and I think this is part of the reason why I have the trouble I do. It never became my "main ax" - that's my G&L. The few times I brought it to rehearsal, I found that the C string got lost in the mix pretty easily, and it was hard to throw in cool comping parts, chords, and two hand tapping (all that stuff that takes advantage of the extended upper range) and still keep the groove going. I think 6s make fantastic tenor-range solo instruments but in most playing situations, they can't be utilized fully... or perhaps I just haven't learned to fully utilize mine yet.

    There's no way I'm gonna give up on the 6, I just want to play it to my full potential.
  8. The things that make a great 6 player are the same as those that make a great 4 or 5 player: time, touch, tone, taste, note choice, feel, groove, and the rest. There's nothing qualitatively different about a 6. And yes, you can rip just as much on a 6 as on a 4 or a 5--ask John Patitucci or Alain Caron.

    If I may make a suggestion, speaking as someone who's played exclusively 6s for years: you don't have to use the whole instrument all the time. You mention that you've been using the 6 just for solo work, and that it's never been your main axe. You also mention that you found it hard to work in tapping, chords, etc.

    So I'd suggest a couple things. First, try making the 6 your main axe for a while. Play all the songs that you would play on a 4 or 5 on your 6, whether they call for any extra high-string stuff or not. Don't do anything that doesn't make musical sense, though feel free to use the high string where it works.

    Second, don't be seduced by the idea that just because that extra string is there, you have to use it all the time. You don't. Get rid of the idea that you shouldn't play a 6 unless you can use it "fully" (whatever that may mean). That's kinda like saying there's no point driving a sports car if you're not gonna drive 120 mph. The point of having the extended range is that you *can* use it if you need or want to, not that you have to or should.

    "Taking advantage" of the extra range doesn't mean you have to use it just so it won't go to waste or something; it means you use it when there's a real musical or technical benefit to doing so. If the music you're playing at a given moment doesn't call for tapping or chords or whatever, then *just don't do it*. Depending on the gig, I've occasionally played for a whole evening without playing anything at all on the high B string (I tune mine to B rather than C). Other nights, I'm up there all the time.

    Re the physical thing, if you really prefer wider spacing, maybe you should go that way. The only moderately priced 6s with 19 mm spacing I know of are the Yamaha TRBs, which you may be able to find used. Beyond that, you're probably talking custom.
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Everything Richard just said;)

    Play it like you'd play a four or a five. Did you get a chance to check out Al Caldwell on the Vanessa Williams special? He played bass. There was no aural indication that he happened to be holding a 9 string at the time.

    If you like wide spacing, get a wide spaced six. I hate narrow spacing myself. You can find some pretty good deals on wide spaced sixes, especially the Yamaha TRBs.

    The more you play a six in regular situations, the more regular it becomes.
  10. Yup.
  11. All_¥our_Bass


    Dec 26, 2004
    I would liek to hear more about ths cuz now I'm really curious.
    I also love to experiment with chords and such always trying something new.


    also if it weren't for string spacing I would not have gotten into bass. Cuz I actual can play guitar, tho not well cuz of how darn close the strings are. I tried bass and loved teh wider spacing, I was no longer accidentaly muting strings above or below he one I was fretting.
  12. LOL :D

    it's not as massive as you'd think. play it for a couple of minutes and it feels totally natural, like all of Bill' Conklins instruments. it's not as sleek as my 8...

    ... but I dig it!

    from the lows,

  13. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota

    You know, like nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills...

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